The Bloomsburg Town Council voted unanimously October 26 to adopt an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, making it the third small town community and 60th municipality in Pennsylvania to enact protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The central Pennsylvania town is home to 14,000 residents as well as a university.
Bloomsburg made national news in 2014 when W.W. Bridal Boutique, a local bridal shop, refused to sell a wedding gown to a lesbian couple. That year the town council voted 4-3 against drafting a nondiscrimination ordinance. The town again made news this past summer when a dunk tank at the Bloomsburg Fair featured a transphobic portrayal of Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.
Supporters of the ordinance are hopeful that its passage will help the community move past the negative light shed by the homophobic incidents in 2014 and 2020.
“This [ordinance] will let everyone in Bloomsburg and everyone who comes to Bloomsburg know they are welcome here,” Mayor Bill Kreisher said in a press release.
Town Council members noted the wide support for the ordinance, including a letter from the Pennsylvania Youth Congress which included statements from local officials throughout the commonwealth. Council members received 55 letters from town residents supporting the ordinance and no letters of opposition. The ordinance also had the full support of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and its president, Bashar Hanna. Former Mayor Dan Knorr spoke for the university, stating that “it was critical as a major employer to attract and retain students and employees and to help the community reach its full potential as the welcoming place we know it to be.”
The Coalition for Social Equity, a local nonprofit which led the effort to pass the ordinance, celebrated the news.
“Bloomsburg is really a welcoming community, and most people here are good and decent people who realize that LGBT people are just like anybody else,” Coalition spokesperson Ammon Young told PGN. “After what happened in 2014, we got a reputation for not being friendly for LGBT folks, and we’re glad that this ordinance will help to correct that record.”
Young also said that the Coalition for Social Equity, which promotes equality for all marginalized people in Columbia and Montour Counties, will partner with the Bloomsburg Human Relations Commission to educate business owners and community members on how to be sensitive to minority communities and avoid discrimination.
Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, joined those congratulating the town.
“We celebrate the journey of Bloomsburg as a quintessential Pennsylvania story,” Landau Goodman told PGN. “A community came together against hatred and even a Council that stalled [in 2014]. They organized at the ballot box, they organized before the council, and they won. This should be celebrated throughout the commonwealth as evidence that LGBT rights, LGBT nondiscrimination protections, and LGBT inclusion are something everybody can get on board to advance.”
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has worked with local leaders directly in several other mid-state communities to adopt nondiscrimination ordinances. Bloomsburg joins Huntingdon Borough and Shippensburg Borough as the only small town communities in the state with LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. The Gettysburg Borough Council is set to vote on an ordinance in December.
“These ordinances are still urgent because we don’t have a statewide law yet,” Landau Goodman said. “We continue to beat the drum in Harrisburg and continue to make critical inroads with legislators, but there’s no substitute for providing immediate protections for individuals within your own borders. Each of the ordinances that we’re helping pass in small towns and rural regions of the state are sending lightning rods to Harrisburg to take action. The ordinances completely dispel the narrative that LGBT civil rights is an issue for the cities and the suburbs. It’s for the entire state. LGBT people are in every legislative district and in every municipality, and they all deserve basic protections under the law like everyone else enjoys.”
Pennsylvania remains the only state in the northeast without statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people. While legislation has been introduced in Harrisburg, both the house and senate bills remain stuck in the respective committees of the Republican-led legislature.